Town planners approve Amherst Media’s building project 

  • Amherst Town Hall FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 8/10/2020 1:15:34 PM

AMHERST — A process that began more than seven years ago, when representatives from Amherst Media identified two Main Street lots as the future site for the nonprofit’s headquarters, is nearing a final stage following approval of the future building from the Planning Board.

In a 6-0 vote in favor of both the site plans and a special permit, the Planning Board last week gave the go-ahead to Amherst Media for constructing a 1 ½-story Greek Revival building.

“It is a major step forward regarding our new facility so Amherst Media can continue to serve the area residents through these very difficult and trying times, helping to move us all into a more equitable and just future,” Executive Director Jim Lescault said in an email following the vote.

Lescault said a capital campaign for what was earlier estimated to be a $1.3 million project remains underway. The exact cost is unknown.

“Predicting when we will be breaking ground is dependent on a number of factors, one of which is finding the contractor that best fits our needs,” Lescault said. “We would love seeing groundbreaking by late fall.”

Amherst Media, which oversees the public access, educational and government television channels for Amherst and broadcasts numerous public meetings and local programs, was issued an eviction notice from its longtime College Street site by building owner Eversource in August 2010.

Planning Board Chairwoman Christine Gray-Mullen said the vote reflects support for Amherst Media’s role in the community.

“I’m pleased for them that they can start to move forward with this because I think there will be a lot of benefits for the town as a whole,” Gray-Mullen said.

The lengthy process commenced with hearings before the Local Historic District Commission and its issuing a certificate of appropriateness. But the project has also faced objections from neighbors about the size of the building and how it will affect the appearance of the historic lawn in front of the Henry Hills House and Amherst Woman’s Club building. 

The approval comes with three waivers including not filing a traffic impact statement, limiting the number of parking spaces and having the parking driveway close to the building.

Though he voted for approval, Planning Board member Michael Birtwistle said it was a bad decision by Town Meeting to rezone the Amherst Media parcels from general residence to neighborhood business several years ago. Birtwistle worries about losing the view of the historic buildings from Main Street. 

Planning Director Christine Brestrup said at one time two single-family homes could have been built on the parcels with no control from the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals.

“It would have actually marred the view of the two buildings significantly,” Brestrup said.

Lescault thanked engineer Bucky Sparkle of The Zengineer of Easthampton and Gillen Collaborative Architects for their work on the project.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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